We are drawn to this world. We see and desire, wealth, success at work and solid family relationships. These things are not wrong in themselves, and the right measure of each can constitute part of God’s blessing to us. However we will never find lasting or true satisfaction in these things alone. The fault is not that we haven’t had the right opportunities in life (job, school, training, marriage etc), or that we don’t have the required abilities (such as intellect), the problem is more fundamental – God has designed us and this world so that we cannot find true satisfaction in it without Him.
The writer of Ecclesiastes experienced great wealth, great pleasure, and had unparalleled opportunities for self indulgence. He obtained what is far beyond the possibilities of many in even our wealthy western economies today. What were his conclusions? He stated that lasting satisfaction is not found in a life without God (Chapter 1). Lasting satisfaction is not found in pleasure, self indulgence or great wisdom and learning (Chapter 2) – it is found in knowing the God who made us and who gives both what we need and the ability to enjoy what we have (Chapter 3).
After this initial statement of his observations on life, the writer covers his topics in more detail. Man rejects his creator’s message. This leads to oppression and corruption of work. Yet even in this fallen world God’s mercy is evident in that He grants us companionship and value in wisdom (Chapter 4). What is meaningful in life is obedience to God. Be humble before Him, not filled with your own ways. Don’t be deceived by the wealth of this world, which is uncertain (Chapter 5).
In Chapter 6 we are reminded that even with great worldly blessing, enjoyment can be far from our lives. Our desires for more than we currently have, even if we have so very much, are an unalterable part of our makeup. Only God truly knows what is best for us and can make us content with what He gives.
Life is So Easily Filled With Dissatisfaction (6:1 – 6)
1) The Inability to Enjoy the Fruit of Our Labours (6:1,2)
“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honour, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.” Ecclesiastes 6:1,2
The basis of our love for the things of this world is that we think we will be content if have what we desire. Yet Solomon has seen the very opposite case. He has observed a man to have great wealth, but was unable to enjoy the great things he had. Indeed this man had all he desired, yet he still experienced sadness. We can have so much, but the end result of all our efforts can be to benefit a stranger – not our own families or friends. Perhaps sickness, affliction, unfulfilled ambitions or goals restrained the blessing. Whatever the affliction was, this was a deep disappointment to the man, it “lies heavily” on him, just as a weighty burden would.
There is however another danger in having much wealth. We come to love money and it dominates our thinking and our affections. We set our hearts on it. This again feeds the desire for more, leading to discontent with what we already have. This craving for more, what the Bible calls covetousness, can become a tyrant who is much stronger than ourselves.
It is the gift of God to enjoy the fruit of our labour (Ecclesiastes 3:12,13), a gift that can be withheld! True happiness comes from knowing that God provides what we need and what is right for us, and then in thanking Him for His gracious provision. There is perhaps at times more enjoyment is found in thanking God than in the material provision itself.
2) The Inability To Enjoy Life In the Midst of Family Blessing (6:3)
“If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” Ecclesiastes 6:3
But perhaps great wealth is not what an individual desires. For some it is health, long life and a happy family life that is important to them. Yet lasting satisfaction can escape those who have these great benefits too. Solomon takes two of nature’s greatest blessings, children and length of life, and shows that even with both of these, an individual’s soul can still not be satisfied with life’s good things. Further to this Solomon also shows the possibility of the individual perhaps coming to a dishonourable end – the individual who had all these things may end their life unhonoured and unlamented, “he has no burial”.
Solomon is taking the things we naturally value, perhaps the greatest blessing the world can bestow on us, and shows that they in themselves are not a guarantee of enjoyment or honour before our fellow man.
3) The Inability To Enjoy Life is A Great Evil (6:4 – 6)
“[The stillborn child] For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?” Ecclesiastes 6:4 – 6
The still born child, who has no life, but does not know the worries and pain of life, is better than this man who has so much but does not enjoy what he has. The key here is that both the wealthy man and the stillborn child go the same place – but the stillborn child has less pain on its journey.
Long life with family and riches, but without enjoying real good, is simply lengthened misery. None of a man’s wealth can exempt him from death, in the end he is neither fit for life or death.
“Surely it is not life, but enjoyment that gives value to existence, and makes the vital difference” Charles Bridges
It is in Christ that we have true contentment and enjoyment in this life, as He provides all that we need spiritually and materially. What He desires for His people, what the Good Shepherd gives to His people, is life to the full (John 10:10). It is possible to have so very much of this world’s good things, but a discontented heart is satisfied with nothing! Making the earth our goal means we will never be truly satisfied (especially when the infirmities of old age or illness set in). However when we come to God through the Lord Jesus Christ He gives us what we need of this world’s blessing, and makes us content! In the words of CS Lewis:
“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” C S Lewis
C) Covetous Hearts and the Nature Of This World Prevent Us From being Satisfied (6:7 – 12)
1) Our Covetous Hearts Prevent Us From Being Satisfied (6:7 – 9)
“All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” Ecclesiastes 6:7
The previous examples of individuals with wealth, long life and family, but still not finding satisfaction may have surprised us. However Solomon now supplies a reason for such discontentment amongst the midst of great earthly blessing. We work to satisfy our cravings, and once we obtain that which we originally craved, new desires begin to grow and form with us. Once our old desires are satisfied, we simply gain new desires. We delude ourselves if we think that the more of his world we have the more satisfied we will be.
“For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 6:8,9
The wise man, or the man who knows how to conduct himself, has more ability and will almost certainly have more wealth and honour than the fool. Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs as well as Ecclesiastes. He knows there are many advantages to wisdom, and wants his readers to grow in understanding and wisdom. However, in this context of always wanting more, in having a gap between what the individual has and what they want, the wise man has indeed no advantage over the fool. The wise man may have more wealth and honour than the fool, but there is still a gap between what the wise man has and what he wants.
The danger is that the more we have, the more we want. The gap between wanting and having is maintained as much for the wise man as for the fool. In Solomon’s words, “Better is the sight of the eyes”, better is the reality before us (what we have) “than the wandering of the appetite” the restless desire for more than we already have. The constant desire for more wearies us and wastes time and effort, it is a “striving after the wind”. He who always wants more has no peace, and often expends time and energy in activities that cannot bring lasting satisfaction or contentment.
We can apply this to various areas of life. The rich man is often not content with his riches. Do not envy him, because if you had his wealth, you would want more too. The great sports person is often aware of their own deficiencies, and wants greater achievements. If they obtain medals then there are world records to be broken. Do not envy them, if you had their ability you would want greater achievements too. There is always someone better at the sport (perhaps younger, or a historical figure). The handsome individual who is good with relationships may land the beautiful partner they want. But by nature, they will want other partners too, look at the marriage breakdown amongst the outwardly “beautiful people” of Hollywood. Do not envy them, if you had that “beautiful” partner, you too would be attracted to other people. The academic who knows so much also knows the unanswered questions and the limits of their knowledge. Do not envy them, if you had their intellect you would yearn for more knowledge too.
2) Our True Peace Is Found in Being Content
It is better to enjoy what we have than to tire ourselves endlessly chasing after more. The labourer has more peace and better sleep than the affluent man. Or as one put it:
“he who is truly rich is he who has enough”
“Our position is not so much looking up to heaven from earth, as looking down from heaven to earth. And it is when we thus realise our rightful standing in heaven (Cf Eph 2:6, Phil 3:20) we rise above the dying vanities of earth” Charles Bridges
Yet it is so easy to get side tracked by our desires for earthly things. We allow our thoughts to dwell on their empty promises of satisfaction, and to lose our vision of heaven and forget the truth that earthly things alone do not satisfy. It is only through a knowledge of God are we released from the enslaving belief that this world brings lasting satisfaction.
3) Our Hearts and This World Prevents Us From Being Satisfied (6:10 – 12)
“Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.” Ecclesiastes 6:10
I believe that in this perhaps seemingly obscure passage, Solomon is stating how utterly unalterable our state of affairs is. “Whatever has come to be has already been named” – Solomon has surveyed so much of life already, understanding the world God as made. Further Solomon has turned his great wisdom inward and studied his own nature, desires, aspirations and what makes up his personality, “it is known what man is”. What was is his conclusion? There is much cause for lack of contentment in this world (described in previous chapters) and ultimately no new source of contentment will appear. Everything is meaningless. We cannot change the fact that this world does not, and never will, give lasting satisfaction. We are not able to dispute with one stronger, God, who has ordained these things. However this does not stop man trying!
“The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 6:11 – 12
Mans in his search for satisfaction expresses many opinions and thoughts on how to obtain lasting satisfaction, but this all proves fruitless, “The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?” Man himself does not know what is truly best for him, “For who knows what is good for man”. Our limited ability and knowledge in understanding the world reveals our own limitations and inability to discern what is best, “For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?”
We need to recognise and acknowledge our limitations in wisdom and understanding. We need to depend on God who has all wisdom and knowledge, and in His great love for His people withholds no good thing from those who love Him (Rom 8:32).
D) Lessons From Chapter 6
It is possible to have long life, great wealth, a large family and still be discontent
It is God who provides the blessing of both what we need, and the ability to enjoy what we have. This blessing is not in our own power to bestow on ourselves.
We will always want more than this world can provide
No matter what our abilities are, and the corresponding wealth or success that we have, we will always want more than we have.
We have an innate inability to discern what is good for us – we need to know and follow God’s leading
Many individuals will multiple words, seeking to find ways of being content with this world alone. We can weary ourselves chasing these fruitless directions, but there is one, and only one, who can give us contentment in this world, and eternal rest in the world to come. In the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28 – 30
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.